Zambian media challenged to be truly independent

As new president calls for free media in inaugural speech

TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI

MASERU – The Zambian Media Liaison Committee (MLC), has challenged the media in Zambia to become truly independent in line with newly installed President Hakainde Hichilema’s call for an independent and free media. The MLC, comprising 16 organisations, notes and acknowledges that this pronouncement comes from the Head of State and, therefore, must be taken seriously.

In his inaugural speech at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on August 24, President Hichilema emphasised that during his reign, the media will enjoy the independence and freedom that it deserves and challenged the media fraternity to ensure that the self-regulation process is concluded.

The MLC, therefore, urged media houses and journalists including those that operate online to heed the presidential challenge by becoming truly independent. “We particularly call on the public media: the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), the Times of Zambia and the Zambia Daily Mail to heed the presidential call by ensuring that they give fair, equal and balanced coverage to all citizens including those with divergent or critical views,” the MLC said in a statement.

The committee further pledges to conclude the media self-regulation framework by ensuring that the draft Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC) Bill is quickly enacted into law. On May 10, 2019, the media fraternity met in Lusaka and unanimously agreed to adopt a statutory self-regulation model which suits the prevailing media environment in Zambia. The over 300 media personnel also agreed that ZAMEC be recognised as law, as the body in charge of media regulation under the auspices of the Media Liaison Committee.

Before the previous Zambian parliament was dissolved, the MLC had submitted the draft ZAMEC Bill to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services who also forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. When the Bill was ready to be taken to parliament, the MLC differed with the then Minister of Justice over some clauses that were not in line with aspirations of the media, hence the delay to be taken to Parliament.

According to the statement, the MLC remains hopeful that with the good will so far shown by the new government, “we shall quickly conclude the process and see the Bill enacted into law”. The MLC also calls for speedy enactment of the Access to Information Bill, and the repeal and harmonisation of the IBA and ZNBC Acts. The IBA’s mandate and roles should be clearly spelt out, particularly on closures and suspension of operating licences for electronic media houses.

Once this is done, it will also help ZNBC become a true public broadcaster as is the case with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). The MLC totally rejects the idea that IBA, apart from regulating electronic media, should also start regulating print media. If this is adopted in the repealed IBA Act, then it shall not be in the best interest of the media especially that ZAMEC will soon be in operation with a legal mandate to regulate all journalists and media outlets.

The committee argues that giving more powers to IBA will make it more punitive than it has ever been. “The IBA should instead be reformed such that it becomes more useful to media development. We should make the institution less vulnerable to political abuse by any government that exists as was the case with the previous regime,” says MLC chairman Enock Ngoma.

The 16 members making up the MLC are; SAEF Zambia, MISA Zambia, Zambia Media Women Association (ZAMWA), Zambia Union of Broadcasters and Other Information Disseminators (ZUBID), Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Bloggers of Zambia, Zambia Institute of Independent Media Alliance (ZIIMA), Media Network on Child Rights and Development, Free Press Initiative (FPI), Zambian Bloggers’ Network, MB Limited, Suma Systems, Lusaka Press Club, the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA), BBC Media Action and Panos Institute Southern Africa.

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